21
May 07

Scare quotes

Proven By Science5 comments • 730 views

“Panorama found that radiation levels from wi-fi in one school was up to three times the level of mobile phone mast radiation.”

A quote from BBC online’s own story on tonight’s Panorama which is headed “Wi-fi health fears are ‘unproven’ “. Marvellous use of scare quotes there. Are the fears proven or not? No they categorically are not. In fact the fears are rubbish.

The basic wrongness of tonight’s show has been picked up by most other news sources covering the story (OK, so I haven’t checked the Daily Mail’s “Blair’s legacy – wifi causes house price plummet” story) with the Guardian finding a physicist who explains about “the so-called inverse square law” which kind of explains why the above quote is missing some important facts. Let’s try that quote again:

“Panorama found that radiation levels from wi-fi ONE METRE AWAY FROM A LAPTOP in one school was up to three times the level of mobile phone mast radiation FROM A MAST ONE HUNDRED METRES AWAY.”

Hang on why “so-called” inverse square law? There’s no need to be so mealy mouthed. The same goes for ‘unproven’ of course, but then the regular cross-promotion that the BBC is doing with Panorama becomes pointless. What do you mean they shouldn’t be doing it anyway?

Of course this total lack of story is exactly why people get their science on this and related stories so wrong. It’s one layer of rubbishness extra on top of publication bias. It’s not even only noticing the positive reports, there are not even positives here. You never hear of a proof that there is no link – only dumb scare stories like this that pop up, get publicity, then are forgotten about except for the nutters with clippings files and selective memories.

Comments

  1. 1
    c i s on 21 May 2007 #

    only dumb scare stories like this that pop up, get publicity, then are forgotten about except for the nutters with clippings files and selective memories

    I wish it were only the nutters, but I feel like the continual pumping out of stories like this must leave the general public feeling with a vague sense of worry, when they think about wifi next there’ll be that little voice in the back of the head going ‘can’t remember what it is I know about that but i’m sure it was bad’.

  2. 2
    RickyT on 21 May 2007 #

    Grrrrrrargghghghghghghghghghgh! This is a new low, even by the usual standards of BBC science reporting.

  3. 3
    Alan on 21 May 2007 #

    i agree cis

    To make it less clear cut, I think wrt the mast/laptop thing i think they migh have been comparing ‘typical operating distance’, but this obv makes the quote immensely misleading, and it also misses out the fact that during operation phones are placed RIGHT NEXT TO YOUR HEAD. so again with the “so-called” inverse square law, we should we not be more worried about the radiation coming from the phones, NOT the masts. and i believe (i don’t know what models this is true for) that the nearer the masts the lower the radiation from the phones. so get yourself near a phone mast NOW

  4. 4
    Alix on 21 May 2007 #

    This is why I hate Jeremy Vine.

    I’m pretty tired of the BBC anyway. The awful coverage of the Madeleine McCann abduction has almost certainly started my gradual weaning off from BBC News.

  5. 5
    Al Ewing on 21 May 2007 #

    Jeremy Vine really did hit a low point today, which is difficult for him. I’ve noticed that both his show and Steve Wright’s get noticeably better when they’re on holiday and have to be replaced. TIME FOR A CULL RADIO 2.

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